The era of the low quality .mp3 format is almost over and the new lossless audio formats are taking its place (Yay!). For classical music, which has a lot of complexity and nuance, the new audio formats (like FLAC and AAC) are a beautiful thing.
Unfortunately finding out where to buy classical music online can be a daunting task.
I’ve compiled a list of the best sites out there that offer high quality, lossless classical music. I also rate them based on their classical music selection, and ease of use. For me, how your website looks and functions is important for the user experience. So if your site looks like it was made on a sunny day in 2002, it will lose points to a site that makes the user experience pleasing to the eye.
Three Reasons to Use Lossless Audio Formats:
- Classical Music tends to be recorded live, so elements like the recording hall’s acoustics tend to get lost in .mp3 format.
- Classical music utilizes both highs (treble) and lows(bass), and compressed formats tend to sacrifice quality on both ends of the spectrum.
- Very little distortion. High quality headphones that go best with classical music tend to reveal low quality music sources. Lossless audio means you can invest in the best kinds of headphones and listen to music as it was supposed to be heard.
Best Sites for Buying Lossless Classical Music Files:
Only a couple of years ago, the “world’s jukebox”, as iTunes calls itself, was a viewed as a threat to the entire music industry. Today, it’s now the #1 source of music downloads in the world. It also recently announced that it would offer HD versions of its music and even offered to upgrade customers’ existing iTunes lineup to be higher quality.
As with most things Apple these days, the main concern is that their devices only play their proprietary formats. Your iPhone or iPod won’t play FLAC in Apple’s native music player. However, there are some apps that can play FLAC files on your device:
- Capriccio – Ultimate Music Player
- FLAC Player+
Classical Music Content: 4.8/5
Lossless Music Formats: M4A, AAC
2. Bowers and Wilkins Society of Sound
What iTunes has in breadth of selection, Bowers and Wilkins makes up for in depth.
The makers of the excellent P5 Headphones (a must for any iPhone or iPad owner) have created their own online community where you can get the best high quality classical music for a yearly subscription fee.
You can test out a trial subscription, where you can download two albums to try out. Bowers and Wilkins offers its music in both FLAC files and m4a, meaning you can listen to music on your laptop as well as your portable devices.
Each album comes with a detailed explanation of the performers, and sometimes even includes interviews with the musicians themselves. Bower & Wilkins have created quite the community for classical music fans
Classical Music Content: 4.7/5
Lossless Music Formats: FLAC, M4A
3. Amazon Digital Music Store
I know I’ll take some grief for recommending a service with ‘mp3’ in their title. The Amazon MP3 Store sells music in .mp3, CD and Vinyl format. Why is Amazon on the list then? Because they have a massive selection of music, including classical. They also have free cloud storage (up to a point), meaning you can buy music and store it online to access it from any device, anywhere. Essentially Amazon offers as wide a music selection as Apple’s iTunes, but without the restrictive proprietary formats that Apple has become known for lately.
Classical Music Selection: 4.8/5
Lossless Music Formats: MP3; CD; Vinyl
4. Linn Records
Linn Records offer the highest quality downloads that I have seen: Studio Master FLAC. Their selection of classical music in particular is also outstanding: I almost bought everything in their Top 10 list.
Linn Records actually offers music downloads in 5 formats: Studio Master FLAC, Studio Master WMA, CD quality FLAC, CD quality WMA and MP3. The difference between “Studio Master FLAC and CD quality FLAC boils down to file size. Windows Media Player (as of yet) can’t play Studio Master FLAC, and so Linn Records also offers Studio Master WMA.
5. HD Tracks
As you can guess from their name HDtracks offers high quality audio downloads. The site offers a wide variety of genres, and the option to download in either mp3 or FLAC. They don’t have the iTunes-friendly m4a format, however you can convert your files with free services like Max.
Classical Music Selection: 3.5/5
While the selection they do have is plentiful, classical music is treated like an afterthought on the site, and is very difficult to find.
Lossless Music Formats: FLAC; MP3;
The Original Lossless Audio: CD’s
All the lossless music formats are evaluated based on how close they come to simulating the pristine sound of CD’s. As of yet, nothing quite rivals CD’s in terms of music consumption. A lot of people still prefers CD’s for their high quality sound systems, and there’s an argument to be made for them: the artists get a larger chunk of the profits, you get artwork, and you have the security of knowing that a computer virus won’t destroy your entire collection.
Top Sites Selling CD’s
1. Amazon’s CD Store
The largest online retailer understandably has the largest CD collection on the internet. If there’s a piece of music that you’re looking for, chances are Amazon will have it. Most people already have accounts at Amazon, and they’re shipping methods are the best I’ve seen.
2. CD Universe
In internet years, CD Universe is old: it’s been around since 1996. It’s survived all the monumental shifts in the music industry and is still going strong. CD universe tends to have a classic focus: on Amazon, pop singles crowd the bestseller list. Whereas on CD universe, you’ll find Crosby, Stills and Nash in the Top 10.